Monthly Archives: February 2016

Audiobook Review: Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon

Title: Hope Harbor
Author: Irene Hannon
Print Publisher: Revell
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Therese Plummer
Published: July 2015
Series: Hope Harbor, Book 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Christian Fiction
Length: Unabridged, 9 hrs, 42 minutes

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Come home to Hope Harbor–where hearts heal . . . and love blooms.

Tracy Campbell never wanted to leave Hope Harbor, Oregon, or the idyllic three-generation cranberry farm where she grew up. But life–and love–altered her plans. Now she’s home again–with a floundering farm to run . . . a tragic secret . . . and a wounded heart. Romance is not on her agenda. Nor is it on Michael Hunter’s. The visitor from Chicago has daunting secrets and devastating regrets of his own. But when Tracy recruits him to help with a project that is close to her heart, winds of change begin to sweep through Hope Harbor, bringing healing, hope, and love to countless lives–including their own.

My Thoughts on the Book:

Some of my favorite contemporary romances aren’t just romances. Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor is not only a sweet romance between a widow and a widower who never expected to find love again. It’s also a story of overcoming regrets, reconciling with estranged family, and recognizing divine providence in the little things that can make a big difference in our lives. Colorful secondary characters and engaging subplots interweave with the main plotline to add layers and texture to this beautifully told story.

The characters’ interactions and the story itself have a very small-town feel appropriate for its setting. I thoroughly enjoyed descriptions of life on a cranberry farm complete with honeybees and hard labor, as well as visits to the beach, Charley’s taco stand, and church functions.

Food plays something of a central role in the story. There were cookies shared between unlikely friends, cinnamon buns offered in apology, lots of trips for everyone’s favorite fish tacos, and a family recipe for cranberry nut cake that plays a yummy role in the story’s conclusion. After all this talk of food, I want to try some of it. Anyone have any favorite recipes for fish tacos or cranberry nut cake to share?

The main characters Tracy and Michael each harbor regrets related to the death of a spouse. Neither expects to find romance again. The way they work through their regrets and arrive at a place where they’re ready to consider another relationship forms the backbone of the story. And the chemistry between them is evident, even if their romantic moments tend to get interrupted by a comically persistent seagull named Floyd.

Meanwhile, there’s also the story of a charitable organization in need of revamping, a reclusive landlady who regrets becoming estranged from her son, and a teen girl and her family trying to come to terms with an unplanned pregnancy. The secondary characters and plot threads impact each other and the main characters’ story in meaningful ways, contributing to the interconnected small-town feel of the story overall.

Fans of Irene Hannon’s will enjoy her believable portrayal of characters’ emotions as well as the growth of both primary and secondary characters throughout the story, but should be aware that this one doesn’t proceed at quite the thrilling pace of her romantic suspense novels. I highly recommend it, in particular to fans of small-town contemporary romance.

Specific to the Audio Edition:

Therese Plummer’s voice and narration style are well suited to this small-town romance. Her narration proceeds at a natural pace, blending into the background to give the story center stage. Character voices are well-done, reflecting the emotions of characters within each scene, and giving voice to multiple male and female voices, including that of a teen girl, which I thought was particularly notable for its feeling of authenticity.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a complimentary copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book (Goodreads) | Audio Sample (Audible) | Audio Sample (christianaudio)| Author’s Site | Narrator’s Site

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, February 2016

Three for the Books, February 2016

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Always Watching by Lynette Eason released this month from Revell. It’s the first in the author’s new Elite Guardians romantic suspense series. Available in electronic, paperback, large print, and audio editions.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More New Releases

Topping the Charts

Risen by Angela Hunt appears on the ECPA’s February Christian Fiction Bestsellers list. It’s a novelization of a movie by the same name that’s coming to theaters this week (February 19, 2016). Here’s some background info about the book, that appeared on the publisher’s blog. The novelization from Bethany House is available in print, electronic, and audio editions.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Best Sellers

Cream of the Crop

A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes won the 2015 Carol Award for Speculative Fiction. It’s first in the author’s Out of Time series, published by Enclave Publishing. Available in print and electronic editions. Check out my review to learn more.

Quick Links: About the Book | Author’s Site | More Award Winners

Book Review: Trial Run by Thomas Locke

Title: Trial Run
Author: Thomas Locke
Publisher: Revell
Published: August 2015
Series: Fault Lines
Genre: Technological Thriller

About the Book (Publisher’s Description)

Dr. Gabriella Speciale has assembled an international team of elite scientists with one goal in mind–to create and control out-of-body experiences that transcend the limits of time and space. Reese Clawson’s mind-bending experiments aim to explode the boundaries of human consciousness–and annihilate the opposition in the process.

When a terrifying discovery and a string of failed tests threaten to dismantle both programs, the key to survival may reside in the mind of a gifted grad student whose unsettling dreams have thrust him into the center of a dangerous battle for control.

As the threads of perception and reality become tangled and time itself twists in unexpected directions, one warning remains clear: what you don’t know can kill you.

My Thoughts

I am impressed by this first book in Thomas Locke’s new Fault Lines series. It is written in the style of many New York Times bestsellers with short action-packed chapters and the kind of direct prose that cuts straight to the point. As a technological thriller it also falls within a genre that’s popular in mainstream fiction, but sorely underrepresented in Christian fiction.

I actually found the opening a bit confusing as I felt I was whisked from one scene and cast of characters to another seemingly unrelated situation, and another, before becoming fully oriented in the first. About the time I was starting to wonder if I should have been taking notes to keep it all straight, the pieces started to come together and note taking proved unnecessary. Meanwhile, something about the storytelling drew me in, and kept me wanting to read on and know more. And over the course of the story, the seemingly unrelated threads came together to form a fascinating overall picture.

Shane and Trent were my favorite characters in the book. I found them likeable and relatable, at least in part because they had no more idea what was going on initially than I did. 😉 They also had sympathetic backstories, worked well together, and I wanted to see them succeed.

I found the glimpses into the ideas behind quantum computing and other research fascinating and well-handled. There was enough detail to intrigue, but not so much as to bog down the story. Also not enough to fully explain, but that’d be a lot to ask of a fictional story in which understanding quantum computing isn’t really necessary for following the plotline.

This is a book from a Christian publisher, and while a clean read, I didn’t see much in the story to make it specifically Christian, aside from a few references to guilt and forgiveness. Along those lines though, I do wonder if the maelstrom/vortex that plays a prominent role in the story could have symbolic meaning to be explored in future titles within the series? I’ll be curious to read on and find out.

An abrupt ending left me wanting a little more resolution or maybe just some more time devoted to exploring the characters’ reactions to what they’ve been through in such an intense climactic scene. But I guess that’ll have to wait for the next book in the series, due out next year. There are plenty of unanswered questions to leave readers waiting on the edge of our seats.

I have no doubt there are many readers out there who would devour this book and look forward to more in the series. In particular, fans of Michael Crichton’s and Tom Clancy’s novels should give this book a try.

Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader copy of this novel via NetGalley for review purposes.

See also: My review of Emissary, book one in the Legends of the Realm series, also by Thomas Locke. Plus there’s a cool Trial Run book trailer you may want to check out.

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, February 2016

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the February 2016 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by! Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place. Please consider subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss future posts.

Today I’m providing information on Christian fiction discussions scheduled to take place around the web this month. I’m also featuring a handful of recently released Christian fiction titles for which a discussion guide is available, either included in the book itself or on the author’s or publisher’s web site.

Online Discussions Coming Up This Month

The ACFW Book Club‘s February selection is The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

For February, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Freefall by Kristen Heitzmann AND Paper Hearts by Courtney Walsh. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Christian Book Lovers’ Hideaway Goodreads group has begun hosting monthly discussions again. Their February fiction selection is The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney by Randy Singer.

The Fans of Amish Fiction Goodreads group discusses one Amish fiction title and one Christian fiction title per month. The selections for February are Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund AND The Imposter by Suzanne Woods Fisher. To join in, visit the group’s online discussion board.

Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of February is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled for February 17th.

The Cherished Book Club, the Christian Fiction Book Club, and the Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group are taking breaks from discussion for the time being.

Recent Christian Fiction Releases Featuring Discussion Guides

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell (January 2015, Thomas Nelson, Contemporary)

The Forgotten Recipe by Amy Clipston (December 2015, Zondervan, Amish Romance)

The Mountain Midwife by Laurie Alice Eakes (December 2015, Zondervan, Contemporary Romance)

The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen (December 2015, Bethany House, Historical Romance)

So, friends, what have you been reading lately? Any titles you’d recommend for book club discussions?

Book Review: My First Hands-On Bible from Tyndale House Publishers

Title: My First Hands-On Bible
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Published: September 2015
Edition: Pretty Pink deluxe edition
Publisher’s Suggested Age: 3-6

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

This Pretty Pink deluxe edition of My First Hands-On Bible is the preschooler version of the popular Hands-On Bible, which has sold nearly one million copies. Jesus taught with hands-on lessons and illustrations; My First Hands-On Bible uses the same experience-based learning to communicate God’s Word in an active, understandable way.

My First Hands-On Bible is a fun and simple, yet meaningful way to engage preschool, prekindergarten, and kindergarten children (ages 3–6) with the Bible while helping them build a solid faith foundation. Each lesson focuses on a specific Bible point through a variety of activities in order to reinforce and help young children remember the stories and lessons. Using common household items, you can help your children have a “hands-on” learning experience while engaging them in 85 key stories from the Bible.

My First Hands-On Bible doesn’t just retell the Bible stories; it also includes actual Scripture from the easy-to-understand and easy-to-read Holy Bible, New Living Translation. In addition to the stories and activities, there are fun illustrations, prayers, and a special Jesus Connection feature.

My Thoughts:

When I first saw this Bible, I was drawn to the adorably pink cover. [Note: it also comes in blue imitation leather as well as standard paperback and hardback editions for the less pink-enthusiastic among us.] I presented it to my four-year-old daughter, who was thrilled to have her own Bible, and even more excited that it was pink. With the imitation leather cover it looks like a “real” Bible, versus a storybook, which makes her feel all grown up.

We’ve been reading this Bible together for a while now, and my daughter recognizes the pictures of Pockets the kangaroo (who appears in the margins with her hands folded in prayer), and tells me that it’s time to pray. Too cute. The prayers are well-written, short and sweet with easy vocabulary and sentence structure. Best of all, they relate the story we just read back to the child’s life. I read a short phrase at a time and my daughter repeats it after me. I think this may be our favorite part of our Bible reading time.

For the most part, the hands-on activities included within the story (and marked in the text with a colorful handprint) are pretty simple, fun, and easy to incorporate. We’ll do some and skip others (or save them until the end of the story) depending on my daughter’s level of engagement at the time and what’s involved. Examples include pretending to be animals, rocking like you’re on a boat, identifying/counting things in the illustration, making sound-effects, acting out parts of the story, etc. They’ve been great for keeping my daughter actively involved.

This is the first Bible I’ve owned in the New Living Translation. This version does seem easier to read and understand than many other translations, as advertised in the product description. And I love the fact that this is a children’s Bible that goes verse-by-verse using big sections of a standard translation of the Bible to tell the individual stories. That said, it’s not uncommon for us to come across words and phrases in the text that are unfamiliar to my four-year-old, and I find myself pausing to explain or rephrase. I would’ve loved to see simple definitions of some of these words included in the margins alongside the hands-on activities. Not a deal-breaker in my opinion, but maybe something to consider in a future edition?

I look forward to continuing to read this Bible with my daughter on a regular basis. And I’m thinking of getting a blue copy of the Hands-On Bible (meant for older kids, ages 6-12) for her big brother. If you’re in the market for a children’s Bible, My First Hands-On Bible could make a great choice.

Thank you to Tyndale House for providing a complimentary copy of this Bible for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | Publisher’s Web Site